Real Answers from Real Pilots

Colleges, is it really required

Hi everyone, my name is Ethan and I just joined this hoping all my questions will be answered! So I have an Instagram and i was taking to two pilots and they both said that they did not go to college and they got hired by Spirit and Virgin America, one of them said that with the shortage that they don’t require a college degree. And the second one with Virgin said that he didn’t go because it was not required so he decided to save his money on getting his ratings. I have been so stuck on this one part of the process it takes to become a pilot for Virgin, United, American that I decided to ask on here. i know this is already a topic on here but I would like to know a bit more. Just to note, I was looking at the United Airline pilot requirements and it says a college degree is PREFERRED and you need no doubt a high school diploma. Thanks!

Ethan

Ethan,

Welcome to the forums.

As you know, you do not need a degree for the regional airlines.

For the legacy major airlines, United, American, Delta, Hawaiian, FedEx and UPS you will absolutely need a college degree. I am aware that United’s application page says “preferred” and that means exactly that. United has literally thousands of applications on file, they prefer ones from pilots with college degrees, so that is what they hire. I am good friends with a gentleman that is involved in hiring for United, he had informed me that he is not aware of any pilots that have been hired in the last several years without college degrees.

A job at one of the legacy majors is a highly sought after position with excellent pay and benefits. The airlines have their choice of applicants and the reality is that they only hire applicants with degrees. I highly doubt that this changes anytime soon.

As for Spirit, Virgin, etc. While some pilots do consider these to be “major” airlines, they are certainly on a lower tier than the legacy majors. By this I mean that they are mostly domestic airlines that have lower compensation and less impressive benefits. It is not at all uncommon for pilots to leave airlines like this for the legacy carriers as the legacies are far more desirable places to work.

I would point out that while your friends without degrees have made it to the lesser majors, they have not yet made it to the legacy carriers and my money says they won’t anytime soon. If I were you, I would put a lot more confidence in what Adam and I, two pilots that have made it to the legacies, say than two pilots who have not made it, but think that they will.

Bottom line, if you would like to someday work for a legacy major airline, making $300k+ as a Captain, you will need to obtain an undergraduate degree.

Chris

2 Likes

Ethan,

Everything Chris said is dead on. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with Spirit and Virgin (who were just purchased by Alaska), EVERY pilot I know who’s there has their applications in at Delta, United, AA, FedEx etc. Those without 4 year degrees are working on them online.

Here’s the deal, yes there’s a pilot shortage today at the Regional level and yes the Majors are hiring but they are far from desperate. When they say “preferred” they’re telling you point blank that’s what they want and therefore that’s who they’re going to hire first. Now maybe when they go through EVERYONE with a degree maybe they will get to you and you can say you did in fact get hired without a degree. But keep in mind you did so sacrificing years of seniority and income which you’ll NEVER recoup. Now you don’t mention your age but the pilots I do know who don’t have degrees and are flying for Majors ALL are older and have a fair amount of life/work/military experience. When they were asked why they didn’t go to college often have answers like family responsibilities, serve their country etc. If you’re a young person who simply doesn’t want to that’s a little harder to justify.

Adam

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Hi, I’m new here. But just to add to what Ethan asked, Do you need a degree to apply to any pilot training school or ATP for example? And if you have a degree, does it matter if it’s not in Aviation or you specifically need to get one in aviation or its related courses in order to apply to a school or become a commercial pilot?

Nana Yaw

Nana,

ATP requires either a Private Pilot license, a 2yr degree or equivalent work experience. The field of study doesn’t matter to ATP or the airlines.

Adam

Adam,

Many thanks for that but if you say “equivalent work experience” how do you mean? I for example completed most of university courses and completed my four years but I didn’t graduate because I have outstanding assignments to finish. However I have a 2 years work experience, one with a bank and another with an Architectural firm. None of this is related to aviation. My question is how does this help me in my dream of flying? Thanks

Nana

Nana,

Having the equivalent of a 2 year degree just makes you an eligible
candidate for the ATP Airline Career Pilot Program. The data shows that
applicants with this experience have higher chances of finishing the
program.

The 4-year degree makes you eligible to fly for a major airline. Regional
airlines do not require a degree. So, you can finish your degree now or
online when you are at a regional.

Tory

1 Like

Tory,

Many thanks Tory. So that means I am still eligible to apply to ATP even though I still have assignments to finish before I get my certificate? Thanks.

Nana

Yes you can.

Adam

1 Like

Adam,

Many thanks.

Nana